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RAF Hercules plane no longer searching for missing yacht after US Coast Guard discovers life raft not launched
Updated 2:49pm Saturday 24th May 2014 in News
The Prime Minister has today sent his condolences to the family of missing Hampshire sailor James Male as the search to find him and his fellow crew was abandoned.
As reported earlier, the Foreign Office confirmed that an RAF Hercules plane would no longer be deployed to looked for the four Cheeki Rafiki yachtsmen after the US Coast Guard discovered its life raft was still on board the capsized vessel.
Hopes of finding the missing British crew faded after the US Coast Guard called off its search at midnight (3am British time).
Underwater imagery taken by a swimmer from a US Navy warship showed the raft clearly stowed in place, indicating it had not been deployed in an emergency.
The upturned yacht was discovered in the Atlantic Ocean yesterday, about 1,000 miles (1,609km) east of Cape Cod in Massachusetts.
Its cabin was completely flooded and windows were shattered, and there was no sign of survivors.
Coast guard officials decided to call off the search for the men - experienced captain Andrew Bridge, 22, from Farnham, Surrey, and crew members James Male, 23, from Romsey, Steve Warren, 52, from Bridgwater, Somerset, and Paul Goslin, 56, from West Camel, Somerset - unless there was new information or sightings which suggested they would still be alive.
But ''none of the developments indicate that to be the case'', a spokesman said.
Today David Cameron said: ''My thoughts are with the families and friends of the crew of the Cheeki Rafiki after the sad news that its hull has been found with the life raft unused.
''My sincere thanks to the US Coast Guard for leading the international search with great dedication - and to the US Navy, the Canadian authorities and to our own RAF C-130 aircraft who took part in it.''
The US Coast Guard found the overturned boat yesterday. Despite initial media reports, it was later established that the boat's life raft was still secured in its storage space.
A spokesman said: ''The crew and swimmer deployed to investigate the overturned boat after a helicopter crew located it 1,000 miles off Massachusetts and within the US Coast Guard's search area.
The surface rescue swimmer also knocked on the hull and reached below the waterline, but with no results. Navy crews saw that the Cheeki Rafiki's keel was broken off, causing a breach in the hull.
A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: ''The UK C130 was due to search for one more day for the life raft of the Cheeki Rafiki.
''In light of the US Coast Guard's decision to suspend their search for the crew following photographic confirmation that the life raft is in the hull of the boat, the C130 will now return to the UK.''
Foreign Office Minister Hugh Robertson said: ''I am sad to confirm that the search for the Cheeki Rafiki has now been suspended. My sincere condolences go out to the families of James Male, Andrew Bridge, Steve Warren and Paul Goslin at this very difficult and distressing time.
''The UK Government is grateful to the US Coast Guard and the Canadian search and rescue services for their efforts to locate the men. Their dedication has been unwavering, and they have done everything they could during the course of the search.''
All four men were on board the 40ft (12m) yacht when it is thought to have got into trouble around 620 miles (998km) east of Cape Cod on May 15 as it was sailing back to the UK from a regatta in Antigua.
Cheeki Rafiki, picture by OnEdition
The US Coast Guard resumed its search for the missing men on Tuesday morning having previously suspended it after scouring 4,000 square miles (10,360 sq km) of the Atlantic, following a petition in the UK which attracted 200,000 signatures and pressure from the UK Government.
The hunt was finally called off after military search teams from the US, Canada and the UK, as well as numerous commercial vessels and volunteer yacht crews combed an additional 21,000 square miles (54,390 sq km) of sea.
A coast guard spokesman said: ''Based on the extreme sea conditions at the time of distress, but assuming best-case emergency equipment, the estimated survival time past the time of distress was approximately 20 hours.
''Searches were suspended nearly 200 hours after the time of distress.''
Captain Anthony Popiel, 1st US Coast Guard District chief of response, said: ''It is with sincere compassion for the families of these four men that our thoughts and prayers are with them all during this difficult time.
''The US Coast Guard is always hopeful, and makes the utmost efforts to find and rescue those in peril. We have the greatest appreciation for the US Navy and US Air Force for working with us alongside the militaries of Canada and the United Kingdom during this massive search effort.
''It is only after our deepest consideration that we suspend our active search efforts.''
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